The First Computerised Sewing Machine Predated Home Computers

The First Computerised Sewing Machine Predated Home Computers

It is rare to find a modern industrial sewing machine that is not filled with features that allow a lot of complex and frustrating tasks to be easily automated, allowing for faster turnaround times and more room for operators to focus on the creative parts of sewing as required.

Interestingly, the sewing world received a sneak peek at how computers would transform the world, thanks to an ambitious 1971 machine that brought computerised sewing to textile factories before many of them used computers at all.

The Eye Of The Snake

The Janome Corporation, formerly the Janome Sewing Machine Company, was founded by the pioneering Yosaku Ube as the PINE Sewing Machine Factory in 1921.

However, it would change its name to Janome (“eye of the snake”) in 1935, in reference to its round bobbin system that was beginning to take over from the traditional long shuttle system.

The company always tried to make its name through innovation. Given that it was decades late to the industrial sewing revolution, it needed to stand out in any way it could. By 1964 this involved establishing an integrated research laboratory in Tokyo.

This lab was built with the purpose of creating computerised sewing machines and bringing an industry originally revolutionised by sewing machines towards its next great revolution.

By 1971, only one computer had been offered for use in the home, with the Honeywell Kitchen Computer largely treated as an exceptionally expensive joke gift.

Whilst computers were used in laboratories and some computerised systems had been installed, they were largely focused on databases, inventory management, air traffic control and performing tasks that were not necessarily manual.

Whilst industrial robots had existed in manufacturing since 1954, even with significant leaps forward they lacked the precision required in the textile industry, so many companies continued to rely on exceptionally hard-wearing manual industrial sewing machines instead.

In 1971, however, Janome developed the Model 801 ZZ, a zigzag sewing machine which was the first in the world with computerised functions that were the first step towards fully automated machines.

At this point, not all textile factories used computers, so the Janome 801 could in some cases have been their first exposure to computers at all, and showed what would become the future of computerised manufacturing. 

Whilst Janone were successful under the New Home and Kenmore Brands, the 801 was the machine that helped them break out onto the global sewing stage and out of the shadow of the pioneers that came before them. However, Janome was far from done at this point.

In 1979, a year before the Sinclair ZX80 made computing affordable for people in the United Kingdom, Janone released the Memory 7 Model 5001, the first programmable computerised sewing machine ever made.

It featured a total of 26 different programmable stitch patterns that could be combined into a range of custom stitching patterns with the speed, length and width of the sewing set automatically.

It also featured Turn Over Memory, which flipped the programmed pattern and allowed mirror images to be sewed in, designed for the backs of garments.

Finally, it also remembered how the user sewed a buttonhole and would do so identically until it was reprogrammed.

This was for many homes and smaller textile shops their first taste of the computerised world, and it is possible today to get programmable sewing machines with a bewildering array of features.